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As Nature Likes It

As You Like It
Shmuel Thaler

Shakespeare Flats: 'As You Like It' draws a link between the forest denizens of the Bard and the migrant workers of 'The Grapes of Wrath'; pictured are Leigh M. Burke (top) and Jean S. Weisz.

The elements add an inspired touch to Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 'As You Like It'

By Anne Gelhaus

THANKS TO some inspired touches from Mother Nature, the opening-day performance of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's As You Like It was transformed from a production that is beautifully rendered in and of itself into something magical.

Director Tim Ocel has given Shakespeare's comedy a Steinbeck setting, in which those characters banished into the Forest of Arden are likened to the migrant workers in The Grapes of Wrath. This era suits the play amazingly well, helping to underscore the anguish of Rosalind, Orlando and the other denizens of the forest who have been forced out of their homes and off their land. B. Modern's costumes and Ramsey Avery's set design help strengthen the link between Elizabethan England and the Dust Bowl of 1930s America.

The play is being staged in the company's outdoor Festival Glen, and there were moments during the opening performance when it seemed nature was rewarding those involved for using what it had provided to best advantage. When Richard Farrell, in a stunning performance as the melancholy Jacque, began the "All the world's a stage" soliloquy, he gave the familiar words such resonance that it became clear why the speech has endured. When Farrell finished, the audience let go its collective breath, and the redwoods surrounding the glen seemed to answer in kind as a strong breeze shuddered through their branches.

Perhaps this moment and others like it were nature's way of acknowledging Ocel for bringing out the play's subtext, in which Shakespeare deals with the effect of the forest's human population on its other inhabitants. The director takes a page from Lord of the Flies for the play's deer-hunting scene, showing how members of the banished duke's court have become wild things during their time in the woods. Farrell's Jacque acts as the group's conscience, making sure the boy who killed the buck literally has its blood on his hands.

The wind and the sun can't be expected to come in on cue during every performance, but it's a safe bet that the cast will continue to acquit itself as well as it did on opening day. Suzanne Irving and Leith M. Burke are well matched as star-crossed lovers Rosalind and Orlando, and many of the minor characters who populate their world are given memorable readings by the Shakespeare Santa Cruz actors.

Rebecca Clark stands out as Rosalind's petulant, jealous friend Celia, as does James Newcomb as sardonic clown Touchstone. Vocal coach Ursula Meyer has had some fun with the updated setting, giving wrestler Charles (Ian Bedford) a Bronx accent and shepherds Corin (Robert Elliott) and Silvius (Mike Ryan) Southern drawls. All told, this As You Like It seems a perfect cooperative effort between man and nature, whether or not the latter chooses to get into the act.

As You Like It plays in repertory through Aug. 31 in the Festival Glen at UC­Santa Cruz. Tickets are $17­$23. (408/459-2159)

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From the July 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro.

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